Leading Women Artists Celebrated at Chichester University

Curator, Dr Gill Clarke, admires Florestan by Gillian Ayres (b.1930)
Curator, Dr Gill Clarke, admires Florestan by Gillian Ayres (b.1930)

The latest University of Chichester Bishop Otter Collection exhibition ‘Women Artists: Power and Presence’ has been attracting much critical acclaim. The show has been curated by visiting Professor, Dr Gill Clarke. Its provocative title seeks to highlight the revolution and empowerment of women artists in the 20th century and includes work by many of the leading female artists of the period.

Dr Clarke says “Many of the artists represented in this exhibition fought to be recognised because of their work rather than their gender.”

This visually diverse and exciting exhibition brings together some forty works from the last one hundred years. As you enter the gallery your eye is met by a series of intimate studies of women from the early 20th century in watercolour, pencil, oil and print which include works by Gwen John, Vanessa Bell, Sylvia Gosse and others.

Martina Thomas (1924-95), Self-portrait, oil, c.1948, © the artist’s family
Martina Thomas (1924-95), Self-portrait, oil, c.1948, © the artist’s family

Amongst these is a revealing self-portrait dating from 1948 by Martina Thomas. Its inclusion provides a fitting opportunity to reassess this Sussex artist’s work. The portrait shows the influence of the Post-Impressionists in its brush work and execution. She studied at St Martin’s School of Art in London and exhibited at the Royal Academy during the 1950s. However, like Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, her representational style fell from favour as Modern British Art increasingly moved towards abstraction.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), Jupiter’s Dream, oil, c.1998, © The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), Jupiter’s Dream, oil, c.1998, © The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

This movement towards abstraction is reflected in two large scale works filled with vitality, colour and life by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Gillian Ayres. They have been generously loaned by The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust and The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery marking the beginning of an exciting relationship between these collections and the Bishop Otter Collection.

I must confess that I find Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s ‘Jupiter’s Dream’ captivating. It is a painting filled with light and energy as the artist brings together a lifetime of experience. She arrived in St Ives in 1940 and painted there and at Balmungo, near St Andrews, throughout her life. Barns-Graham was one of only a few women artists painting in an exploratory manner in the 1940s and she moved steadily towards abstraction. This late work is extraordinary in its use of composition, colour and mass to create movement and drama. The three dramatic bands and geometric forms draw the viewer into its celestial drama and heighten our senses.

I express my delight in Gillian Ayres’ painting Florestan. Gill Clarke responds “Gillian Ayres wanted her paintings to be alive and give delight. The thick texture of the paint with its bright colours make this a joyful and expressive picture.” I comment on the paintings musical quality and sense of rhythm and Dr Clarke explains that its title might relate to Gillian Ayres’ love of Beethoven and his opera Fidelio.

There are many other paintings to delight you by leading artists from the 20th century and all of them by women. The continuing prominence of women in art is celebrated by a number of contemporary works.

Dr Gill Clarke’s continuing work at the Bishop Otter Collection is bringing new life to this important collection in the context of the life and campus of the University of Chichester. She is deserving of our thanks.

If you have yet to see this beautiful and thought provoking exhibition you still have time. It runs until the 9th April 2017 and entry is free. For more information and opening times go to www.chi.ac.uk/about-us/otter-gallery.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.


Barbara Rae and the R.A. Printmakers at Pallant House Gallery

Barbara Rae, Harbour Night, 2005, etching and collagraph, © The Artist

I have a particular passion for prints. The diversity of techniques available to the contemporary printmaker makes this a particularly creative area for artists. Scottish artist and Royal Academician Barbara Rae accurately describes herself as both a printmaker and a painter. The use of collage and layering entwines both strands of her work. She offers the viewer what some have described as an abstracted interpretation of the world.

Barbara Rae, Hacienda, 2003, screen print, © The Artist

Barbara Rae voices real concern about how we locate ourselves in relation to the world around us. This concern is important and countercultural to the way in which technology, like satellite navigation, can disconnect us from our landscape and sense of place in the world. Her work holds in tension what we perceive and what is beyond, the colours creating a spatial ambiguity. Rae remains an experimental painter and printmaker, seeking new ways to communicate her vision of the world. Patterns in the landscape are revealed in the patterns in her prints. Take, for example, the lines drawing together the composition in ‘Harbour Night’, as though woven in the scenery. Together with the rich, layered colours they create rhythm and life in the image. ‘Barbara Rae: Prints’ is a jewel-like exhibition, which allows us to understand the artist’s mastery of printing techniques as diverse as etching, collotype and screen printing. It runs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 26th October 2014.

Eileen Cooper, Skipper, 2009, woodcut, © The Artist

Also on show at Pallant House, until 19th October, is a selection of twelve newly acquired prints, which feature in another exhibition, titled ‘Royal Academician Printmakers: New acquisitions through the Golder-Thompson Gift’. It spotlights the generosity and vision of Mark Golder and Brian Thompson, who have given some one hundred and sixty works by contemporary R.A. printmakers to the Pallant House Gallery Collection. The works in this exhibition encompass a variety of different printmaking techniques, including wood engraving, aquatint, silkscreen and several types of intaglio printing, which include etching, engraving, polymer and gravure. Among my favourites is Eileen Cooper’s ‘Skipper’. This woodcut print has a compelling folk narrative, told through her lovely use of line. It is at once playful and contemporary.

These two exhibitions beautifully explore and demonstrate printmaking as an art form in its own right. But these two shows, like printmaking itself, are also highly democratic, as these images are to be shared and celebrated by many.

For more information on these exhibitions go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 3rd September 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Borde Hill Garden, The Legacy of a Victorian Plant Collector

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke
Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke in the Borde Hill Italian garden
Thomas Joynes’s sculpture ‘Henosis’
Thomas Joynes’s abstract sculpture ‘Henosis’, part of the 2014 Borde Hill Garden Sculpture Exhibition
Borde Hill Garden
One of the Borde Hill garden ‘room’ beds

The gardens at Borde Hill reflect the passions of Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke who set about creating them having purchased the house and land in 1893. Between 1893 and 1937 he sponsored many of the Great Plant Collectors’ expeditions. They returned with rare specimens brought back from their travels in the Himalayas, China, Burma, Tasmania and the Andes. Many of these plant species are still at the heart of the collection which make up the seventeen acres of formal gardens we enjoy today.

The custodianship of this remarkable house and garden is now in the hands of Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke’s great grandson Andrewjohn and his wife Eleni. Like their forebears they are passionate about Borde Hill and its gardens. Eleni, a geologist and trained horticulturalist, admits that it is the gardens which inspire her. She explains “Over recent years we have embarked on a program of intensive new planting regenerating existing beds with perennials, grasses and lots of new trees.” She and her team of dedicated gardeners have worked hard to add even more colour and interest to both the gardens and parklands throughout the season. Eleni enthuses “Colour, texture, smell and light are so important. The gardens must be alive to delight the senses of the visitor.” As you walk around the garden your senses are arrested and delighted. The gardens were first opened to the public by Andrewjohn’s father, Sir Ralph Clarke, in 1965, a tradition which he is proud to continue. This botanically important Grade II* listed Sussex garden is made up of a series of ‘rooms’ and vistas which still speak loudly of the Victorian plant collector. Each enthrals the visitor in turn.

The gardens are complemented by forty exciting sculptures from fourteen artists represented in the 2014 Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition. The work is for sale. Amongst my favourites is the abstract sculpture shown here. Titled ‘Henosis’, it is the work of Thomas Joynes. In classical Greek the word for oneness and unity is henosis. In Platonism the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality. The artist’s attention to materials, texture, light and form frame the Italian garden and its vista beautifully. The influence of organic, natural forms is apparent in Joynes’ work and is particularly appropriate in this context, uniting us with this garden and parkland landscape.

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke are clearly united to the procession of their family’s ambitions, life and history in this place. Their day often starts at six or seven in the morning as there are always things to do. But when you are on the right path in life there can be an ease to hard work. Eleni concludes “We are very aware of the wonderful heritage of this living collection’s past and our responsibility to replace or propagate the rare.” Andrewjohn and Eleni’s stewardship is deserving of our thanks. Their passion and dedication are keeping this remarkable collection alive in every sense as a rich botanical resource for us all.

This Bank Holiday weekend treat yourself to a visit to the remarkable Borde Hill Garden, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP. You will take home wonderful memories and who knows maybe even a sculpture! For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to www.bordehill.co.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 21st May 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Updating a Tradition: Lisa Katzenstein

Detail of tall cone vases in 'Flowers' design by Lisa Katzenstein
Detail of tall cone vases in 'Flowers' design by Lisa Katzenstein

Ceramics continually fall under the radar as an art form. In this country ceramics struggle to shrug off the perception of it being a utilitarian craft, whilst in Europe you have whole museums dedicated to the subject. Lisa Katzenstein is a Hastings-based ceramicist who, through her art, would like to change people’s awareness of the medium. Nicholas Toovey tells us more

'Landscape' design rectangular vase by Lisa Katzenstein
'Landscape' design rectangular vase by Lisa Katzenstein
Group of leaning vases hand-painted with wild plants by Lisa Katzenstein
Group of leaning vases by Lisa Katzenstein
'Melon' design wave bowl by Lisa Katzenstein
'Melon' design wave bowl by Lisa Katzenstein
'Melons' design large square vase from the 'Grow Your Own' series by Lisa Katzenstein
'Melons' design large square vase by Lisa Katzenstein
'Honesty' and 'Physalis' design tall twist vases by Lisa Katzenstein
'Honesty' and 'Physalis' design tall twist vases by Lisa Katzenstein

Lisa was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the age of 4 she moved with her family to Italy, moving again to London when she was 10. She continued to live in London and eventually shared a one bed room flat with her husband and renting a separate studio. In 2007, Lisa and her partner decided to stop spending money to live uncomfortably and moved to Hastings, halving their outgoings and trebling their space. Lisa’s mother-in-law lived in the town so they both knew the area very well. Today she would not live anywhere else, as the move took them to somewhere that they now love. She acknowledges Hastings may have had a bad reputation, but personally cannot understand the reasons behind it. In her eyes the town is not too chichi like other neighbouring towns and is a wonderful place in itself, it also is host to a thriving artistic community. Does Sussex inspire her? Definitely, it may not be immediately translated in her work but she loves the contrasts between East and West Sussex and the nearby west Kent. From the Denge sound mirrors near Dungeness and the wilder parts of the pretty marshes in East Sussex to the ‘park-like’ appearance of West Sussex. Rye, Winchelsea and Hastings have their history, she says, but it is portrayed differently to the Cotswolds which has a Disney Land appearance. Whilst these places are more an inspiration, it is perhaps the proud scruffiness of nature and wild flowers in our counties that transfers onto her work in ceramics.

Lisa studied a BA in ceramics at Central School of Art, London, followed by an MA in ceramics at the Royal College of Art. She is a professional member of the Craft Potters Association and on the Sussex Guild, she is also listed on the Craft Councils listed makers list. When she was leaving college very few of her fellow students could make a living from ceramics, with the public attitude being very much ‘Why pay that much for a vase?’. Fortunately today, people have a better understanding and appreciation for a one-off piece of art. As a nation our perception of ceramics as an art form is slowly changing, but a dedicated museum to ceramics, especially 20th Century works, still seems a long way off.

Lisa describes her work as traditional, her pieces are slip-cast or press moulded white earthenware adorned by hand-painted ‘tin-glaze’ decoration prior to firing. This technique was developed in Europe to imitate the imported and fashionable Chinese porcelain. It would be referred to as Majolica, Maiolica, Delft or Faience depending on where it was produced. She also says that her work is a half-half mix of design (as it is functional) and art (as it is individually painted). The traditional element also refers to the fact that not only is the work functional but she chooses flowers and nature as her subject. However her work is not stuck in the 18th or 19th Century, Lisa reinvents the oeuvre for a modern audience, the flowers are not painted in a botanical way, they are contextual.  Her bright, colourful and cheery palette enables her work to be eye-catching and still fit within interiors of today. Her latest series of work concentrates around the renewed interest in ‘grow your own’, decorated with vegetables and fruit.

Lisa will be showing her work on the 9th and 10th June at the fabulous ‘Sussex Guild Show’ at Parham House near Storrington, and at ‘Art in Clay’ at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire on the 6th, 7th and 8th July. Her work can also be seen at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery between the 1st June and 7th July in a group exhibition with 49 other artists in the preview exhibition of Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auction where all the works on show will be offered for sale at their Spring Gardens Salerooms on the 21st July.

For more www.lisakatzenstein.co.uk

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in June 2012.

Inspired by Nature: Claire Palastanga

Claire Palastanga in her studio
Claire Palastanga in her studio

Claire Palastanga is a ceramicist based in Tunbridge Wells, her sculptural non-functional vessels and forms are based on the miracles of nature. Her work is strikingly beautiful and merges the boundary between craft and art. Nicholas Toovey tells us more

Claire Palastanga 'Warmth' porcelain with gold leaf
Claire Palastanga 'Warmth'
Claire Palastanga 'Strength' black earthenware with silver leaf
Claire Palastanga 'Strength'
Claire Palastanga 'Red Hot' black earthenware with gold leaf
Claire Palastanga 'Red Hot'
Claire Palastanga 'Wave' black earthenware with gold leaf
Claire Palastanga 'Wave'

Claire grew up on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells and since her teens always wanted to pursue a career involving the arts. Her initial thoughts leaned towards a career in interior design. After a visit to the department at the Rochester Campus of Kent Institute of Art and Design, she was somewhat disappointed to find the department very clean and tidy with neat desks and drawing boards. Fortunately for her, she had walked through the ceramics department. Here she saw people with clay-splattered aprons and an inherent dust in the air an environment much more akin to her character. With no experience of working in clay she launched into a ceramics degree obtaining a first-class honours degree. Claire has not looked back on this bold and brave decision ever since. 2011 was a particularly good year for the ceramicist as she was awarded the Niki Calcutt Bursary for the South East Open Studios and won joint best 3-D/Sculptural Work at the Pure Art Fair in Battle.

For many, her subtle yet eye-catching work is reminiscent of sea urchins. However, these ceramic sculptures were inspired by horse chestnuts and conker shells. ‘I love the mass of vicious spikes contrasting against the soft velvety interior’ says Claire, who continues ‘I also love the fact that these are never really seen as precious and are just discarded by roadsides – to me they are like treasure’. These delicate forms are made from porcelain or black stoneware clay with each spike painstakingly hand rolled before being applied to the body. It is then fired with the main body often left unglazed showing the matt surfaces of the clay. This is juxtaposed with the silver and gold leaf interiors reflecting her natural inspiration.

Does Kent inspire her? Definitely, she feels lucky to live in such a beautiful area surrounded by fantastic countryside, particularly in Broadwater Down Woods, where she rides her horse, Jigsaw. She is also inspired whilst working at her allotment in Leigh. Whilst these inspirations may not directly transfer onto her sculptural forms, it assimilates and exudes through it. Her work that is unadorned with spikes offers a more tangible link to her surrounding landscape once she has thrown and distorted the porcelain or clay into its final form.

Her work is stocked by numerous galleries and can next be seen alongside the work of printmaker Letitia Tunstall at the South East Open Studios in the first three weekends in June, between 11am and 6pm at the Red House, Trottiscliffe near West Malling. On the 6th and 7th July her work will be at ‘Art in Clay’ at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. Her work can also be seen at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery between the 1st June and 7th July in a group exhibition with 49 other artists in the preview exhibition of Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auction where all the works on show will be offered for sale at their Sussex Salerooms on the 21st July.

For more visit http://www.clairepalastanga.com

Nicholas’ article was intended for publication in June 2012.